Graphic Novel Review: Stargazing by Jen Wang
Moon is everything Christine isn’t. She’s confident, impulsive, artistic . . . and though they both grew up in the same Chinese-American suburb, Moon is somehow unlike anyone Christine has ever known.
But after Moon moves in next door, these unlikely friends are soon best friends, sharing their favorite music videos and painting their toenails when Christine’s strict parents aren’t around. Moon even tells Christine her deepest secret: that she has visions, sometimes, of celestial beings who speak to her from the stars. Who reassure her that earth isn’t where she really belongs. Moon’s visions have an all-too-earthly root, however, and soon Christine’s best friend is in the hospital, fighting for her life. Can Christine be the friend Moon needs, now, when the sky is falling?
Jen Wang, the author and illustrator behind the critically lauded and much-loved young adult graphic novel The Prince and the Dressmaker returns with Stargazing, a wonderful new contemporary middle grade graphic novel.
Stargazing follows middle school protagonist Christine Hong as she navigates a new, sometimes peculiar, and happily exhilarating friendship with a girl named Moon Lin. After playing a concert at their neighborhood church, Christine sees a young girl around her age come up to a banquet table and help herself to food. Christine’s friends don’t offer much about the girl (Moon)- other than she allegedly beats other kids up! In a swift turn of events, Christine’s parents end up renting the extra unit on their property to Moon and her mom YuWen; after hearing her friends’ gossip, Christine is terrified to think that a possible off-the-rails mean girl will be living next door! It ends up, though, that Moon is pretty awesome and pretty different from Christine. She is bold, loud, forthright, totally into K-pop music, and not under as much academic and performance pressure as Christine is by her relatively strict parents. Moon also, it should be noted, insists she has visions about celestial beings who beckon her back to her true home planet- a reveal that Christine can’t quite figure out what to do with. Moon draws Christine a little bit out of her safety zones- things like getting Christine to paint her nails, branch out a bit with music styles, and even contemplate signing up to perform at their school concert! It turns, out however, that Christine’s parents notice and don’t exactly approve of certain changes, leading to a drift in friendship and a confrontation and discussion about expectations and prejudices. In the middle of their drift, when medical emergency suddenly strikes Moon, Christine has to summon her friend’s tenacity and swallow her guilt and anxiety to be the strongest and bravest she has ever had to be.
Stargazing thoughtfully speaks to bigger subjects such as socioeconomic differences, Chinese American identity, and familial expectations, though the core of the story arguably rests in the magic and complications that intense new friendship can bring. Christine and Moon are beautifully drawn out and developed characters (making the quick turn of Moon’s emergency situation all the more palpable and heart-rending). Wang’s illustrations are sublime- expressive, clear and extremely appealing- and the storytelling is just so good here: managing multiple directions and levels of storyline, tender subject matter and mystery with humour and lots of heart.
Overall, a gorgeous and affecting graphic novel, Stargazing is highly recommended. A recipient of multiple starred reviews, Stargazing is perfect for fans of potent middle grade graphic novels and should find a much-read and loved home along terrific titles like Be Prepared, Guts, El Deafo, Rollergirl, Real Friends, and other similar reads. Note: If you are a reader sensitive to spoilers about a title, I would suggest not reading too much background about Stargazing before diving in!
I received a copy of this title courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.